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Cumberland County has received $65 million in federal pandemic relief, and officials plan to devote $16 million toward initiatives that will help people afford housing.

These funds will go toward helping cost-burdened families who  struggle with housing costs.

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, was passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden in March 2021. The purpose of ARPA is to help municipalities, counties, states and tribal governments recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The plan is a portion of Cumberland County’s 2022 COVID recovery plan, which the Board of Commissioners approved in June, and stated that the $16 million used for affordable housing falls under the negative economic impacts requirement.

According to the N.C. Housing Coalition, a statewide nonprofit that advocates for affordable housing, 36% of households in Cumberland County spent one-third or more of their income on housing costs such as mortgage, rent and utility payments as of 2021.

A recent study conducted by the city of Fayetteville found that between 2010 and 2018, the number of renter households that earn below the median household income in the city increased by 21%.

Want to understand what’s happening with federal pandemic relief funds in your community?

According to guidance from the U.S. Treasury, ARPA recipients such as Cumberland County can use the aid on public health, negative economic impacts due to the pandemic, certain infrastructure and revenue replacement for local governments that lost public funds due to COVID-19.

All funds received from ARPA must be allocated by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026.

How to check whether you may qualify for mortgage or rental assistance

Of the $16 million for affordable housing initiatives, $2 million is planned to be used for a mortgage assistance program for homeowners who are unable to make their monthly payments because of the pandemic.

Eligibility will be limited to those who live in a qualified census tract, which the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines as a census tract where half of households make 60% or lower of the area median gross income.

To check whether your area is eligible, go to the U.S. HUD website and check the box reading “Color QCT Qualified Tracts (Zoom 7+).” It will show qualifying areas.

However, if an applying household does not live in a qualified census tract, it can also be eligible if it is considered low to moderate income, meaning 80% or below the area median income.

Aid also cannot be duplicative, meaning the household could not have received similar aid from another source.

Another $1.5 million is planned on rental assistance. The eligibility criteria will be the same as the mortgage assistance program.

Programs for first-time homebuyers and Shaw Heights

The county also plans to start a $2.5 million first-time homebuyers program. Aid will be limited to a maximum of the total amount of aid each person in the household received from federal COVID-19 stimulus. Eligibility criteria will be similar to the housing assistance programs. 

The largest portion — $10 million — is planned to go to the construction of an affordable housing development in the Shaw Heights neighborhood in northwest Fayetteville, which is in a qualified census tract.

The development will be for low- to moderate-income households. The number of units is yet to be determined.

It is also planned to be paired with a $12 million sanitary sewer project for the Shaw Heights neighborhood.

“Failing septic systems have been an issue within this community and for the Shaw Heights Affordable Housing Project to be most successful, the installation and construction of new pipes, pump stations and force mains for sewer system is required,” county officials wrote in their COVID-19 recovery plan.

Application information still under development

Details on the programs are being finalized, so applications are not yet available. Check carolinapublicpress.org for more information as it becomes available.

Ben Sessoms

Ben Sessoms is a Carolina Public Press staff writer based in Fayetteville. Send an email to bsessoms@carolinapublicpress.org to contact him.

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